Photo disclaimer: One thing that I learned having an artist/art teacher for a mother was TAKE PICTURES OF WHAT YOU MAKE. While I believe in other forms of typographic emphasis (italics, bold, different fonts, color, etc.), this was said in all caps by a woman who had recurring dreams of a few pieces stolen from shows before she ever recorded them on film–of course her best work. I’ve internalized her words–and the honest regret–enough that I often remember just before wrapping a present, late at night with insufficient lighting and nothing but an early smartphone at hand.
I’m hitting the age where my friends are just starting to have babies. This onesie, with iron-on fabric letters courtesy of me, a stencil, and small scissors, was part of my contribution to a shower for a now-toddler a few years back, inspired by the Martin Luther King, Jr quote (a combination of two lines in this great speech, I believe) one of the mothers had on her baby-centric Pinterest board: I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
This beautiful child was born to two wonderful women of two different racial backgrounds whose relationship has long been the one that their friends (read: me) look to for guidance in the whole being-an-adult thing. They both exude caring competence and if they weren’t so nice it would intimidating how easy they make adulthood/marriage/parenthood thing look. In a baby shower present for the first new generation amongst my friends, I wanted to mirror some of what I see in them back to them. As for choosing such a short quote, and then mangling it (King never talked about super babies as far as I know), well, tracing and cutting out tiny letters makes one appreciate brevity.
At the time of their baby shower, the tide was just turning in favor of legal marriage equality both in Minnesota and around the country. When I was browsing through their boards for inspiration, the King quote jumped out at me. It’s something that I think most of us can struggle with, the choice to remain loving in the face of hate, to stay committed and steadfast and dedicated to long-overdue and frustratingly-slow change. Sticking with love doesn’t mean backing down from working towards full rights and equality, but going on living fully in the face of it, not letting ourselves slide into the ignorance, dehumanization, and hate of those decrying the full humanity of each of us.
My grandparents’ mixed race marriage in the 1930s was an Event for the neighborhood, despite (because of?) the support of both families. They remained childless for years, struggling with what it would mean for their progeny to be a manifestation of that love in a world that treated them, as an adult couple, as objects of curiosity at best and an affront to legal and moral standards at worst. My family of origin, again mixed race, faced the 1980/90s version of the same objectification: which one is adopted? same mother, same father? are you the nanny/grandfather/step-parent/interloper? My worldview is narrow and your existence challenges it! I feel threatened by small children and loving families who don’t fit into my assumptions and prejudices! I never felt unlucky to be born into my family, despite the stares and questions of others; we stuck with love.
No couple or family or baby should have to represent some broader idea, be objectified as the embodiment of the narrow-minded’s unimaginable and therefore threatening world, with the nay-sayers circling like hunters for the smallest cracks or failures to prove their prejudice right (as if they were open to being moved). It’s too great a burden to bear for any of us.
As much as I am wary of tendencies to diffuse and commercialize radical messages of non-violent revolution (and I do think that this onesie does both, hence it will never be a happify product), I also wanted to express all the faith and hope I have in the couple, their daughter, and in the way that their love in the world is part of the light that puts out darkness (see again Martin Luther King Jr.’s Aug. 16, 1967 speech).